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Alonzo B. Cornell and the Republican Party: An Address Delivered in Utica, New York, on October 30, 1879


ON 30 OCTOBER 1879

Utica (N.Y.) Morning Herald and Daily Gazette, 31 October 1879. Another text in Syr-
acuse (N.Y.) Journal, 31 October 1879.

“A stirring political appeal” was how the Syracuse Journal described Doug-
lass’s address at Utica’s Opera House on the evening of 30 October 1879. An
estimated twelve hundred people gathered to hear Douglass deliver the sole
address at a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Alonzo B. Cornell.
The Utica Morning Herald opined that the audience, which included “many
ladies” and “colored citizens,” was the “largest of any political meeting of
the campaign.” The rally was called to order at 8:00 P.M. by Charles M.
Dennison, chairman of the county committee, on whose motion Daniel
Batchelor was made chairman. Charles S. Symmons announced the appoint-
ment of the new committee members and then introduced Douglass, who was
received warmly. At the conclusion of his “able and very effective address,”
according to the Herald, the audience gave “three hearty cheers.” This ad-
dress was one of a series of nearly identical campaign speeches that Douglass
delivered in New York in the fall of 1879 on behalf of the state Republican
party. See Appendix A, text 11, for a precis of an alternate text. Utica (N.Y.)
Morning Herald and Daily Gazette, 29, 30 October 1879.

He said he had appeared before the American people, during the last forty
years, as a slave, a fugitive slave, a man, and a man among men, and at last
thro’ the courage of the republican party, he was able to appear as an
American citizen, under the flag at last. (Applause.) At his age, the quiet of
home was more attractive than the political campaign. If the canvass
merely involved the ordinary questions of banks, tariffs, and the like, he
should not be here. These questions he would leave to others, not educated
in slavery, for slavery is a poor school not only for slaves but for masters.
We are drawing near the close of a splendid canvass, such as we have not


had in New York for years. The financial question was one which would
settle itself if well let alone. The prompt, quiet and successful manner in
which the measure of resumption1Passed in 1875, the Specie Resumption Act ordered the U.S. Treasury to begin redeeming legal tender notes, the famous greenback dollars, in gold in 1879. By effectively placing the nation on the gold standard, this legislation attempted to reassure investors in U.S. public securities but actually threatened a run to convert paper for gold dollars. “Greenbacker” opponents of specie resumption charged that the act would seriously reduce the amount of currency in circulation and unfairly reward speculators by repaying bonds in gold that had originally been purchased with less valuable paper dollars. When he became Rutherford B. Hayes's secretary of the treasury in 1877, John Sherman began preparing for specie resumption by amassing a gold reserve to meet all federal obligations. Sherman’s actions plus a favorable trade balance and the limited reintroduction of silver currency by the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 encouraged the public to attempt the experiment. No rush to exchange the paper dollars occurred when the Specie Resumption Act took effect on 2 January 1879, and hard-money men credited Sherman’s competent management of the nation's finances for averting a crisis. Walter T. K. Nugent, The Money Question during Reconstruction (New York, 1967), 93-101; Irwin Unger, The Greenback Era: A Social and Political History of American Finance, 1865-1879 (Princeton, N.J., 1964), 322-407; Davison, Rutherford B. Hayes, 174-81. has been accomplished leaves nothing to
be said, except it be to the credit of John Sherman.2The younger brother of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, John Sherman (1823-1900) worked as a surveyor before commencing the practice of law at the age of twenty-one. A founder of Ohio's Republican party, he served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from the Cleveland district (1855-61). In 1861 the Ohio legislature elected Sherman to the U.S. Senate where he stayed until 1897, except for four years as Rutherford B. Hayes's secretary of the treasury. A highly pragmatic politician, he usually sought the middle ground on controversial Reconstruction and economic issues. Sherman’s efforts to obtain the Republican presidential nomination in 1880, 1884, and 1888 proved futile. He served as William B. McKinley’s secretary of state but resigned in 1900 because of his antiexpansionist sentiments. John Sherman, Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate and Cabinet, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1895); Sobel, Biographical Directory of the U.S. Executive Branch, 306-07; NCAB, 3: 198-201. In respect to our
national credit, we stand in the front rank of nations. The republican party
has done few things better entitling it to our gratitude and earnest support as
citizens than the way it has settled the financial question. Around us we see
the good results in the dawning prosperity on our national horizon. The
democratic party had learned by experience. Ohio has taught it a lesson3In the fall of 1879 the Democrats of Ohio ran Thomas Ewing, Jr., for governor on a platform advocating inflation through the increased coinage of silver, remonetarized in 1878, and through the substitution of U.S. Treasury notes for national banknotes destined to be retired as the Civil War debt was repaid. The Ohio Republican party led by gubernatorial candidate Charles Foster stood by the sound-money politics of Secretary of Treasury John Sherman in greatly restricting silver coinage and in redeeming greenback dollars in gold. In the 14 October 1879 election, Republican Foster triumphed over Democrat Ewing by a seventeen-thousand-vote margin. AAC, 1879, 703-05; Phillip D. Jordan, “Ohio Comes of Age, 1873-1900," in Carl Wittke, ed., The History of the State of Ohio, 6 vols. (Columbus, 1941-44), 5: 165-68.
(applause), and Senator Davis now sees the mistake it made in favoring flat


money.4Born near Cecilton, Maryland, David Davis (1815-86) graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio and then settled in Illinois to practice law. In the early years of his legal career, Davis traveled the judicial circuit with Abraham Lincoln, who became his close friend. Davis served as a state circuit court judge from 1848 to 1862, when Lincoln elevated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. His minority opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Legal Tender Act won him the presidential nomination of the Labor Reform party in 1872 but he later withdrew from the race. In the disputed presidential election of 1876, Davis originally was considered for a seat on the electoral commission, but he declined the position following election to the U.S. Senate by a coalition of Democrats and independents in the Illinois legislature. After a single term in the Senate, including two years as president pro tempore, Davis retired to private life. Willard L. King, Lincoln’s Manager David Davis (Cambridge, Mass., 1960); BDAC, 782; ACAB, 2: 95. Since they were beaten, our democratic friends have learned
wisdom. That’s the way they taught me wisdom at the south. The demo-
cratic party would be entitled to our pity, if its blunders did not partake of
the nature of crime. It has been blundering along, trying to get on the wrong
side of every question, and it has succeeded admirably. (Applause) It
opposed the right of petition. It moved to have all memorials and petitions
in relation to slavery laid on the table, and I believe under the table. It took
strong ground and wrong ground on the right side of speech, blundering
again. It was wrong on the annexation of Texas. The spirit of bondage and
of slavery is strong in the democratic party still; that is the reason I am here
to-night. The democratic party was on the wrong side during the war. It was
on the wrong side when it came to reconstruction and to the amendments.5Although a minority of Democratic members of Congress supported passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the party voted unanimously against the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 127; Gillette, Right to Vote, 23-25, 73-75.
The same party is on the wrong side to-night.

I feel somewhat in a congratulatory mood. I have been over the state,
and have seen and heard a great deal. The people are full of confidence, and
I believe that on the 4th of November we shall hear the cheering news that
Alonzo B. Cornell6Son of Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University, Alonzo B. Cornell (1832-1904) bypassed a college education to pursue a successful career in the banking, shipping, and telegraph industries. As chairman of the Republican party state committee in 1872, Cornell championed Grant against Liberal challenger Horace Greeley. Rewarded with lucrative appointments in the New York City Customs House, Cornell was discharged from those posts by Rutherford B. Hayes for violating regulations barring federal bureaucrats from partisan leadership positions. New York Republicans protested this action by nominating and then electing Cornell governor in 1879. In that office, Cornell undertook the reform of the state’s financial administration and broke with his longtime mentor, U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, costing him renomination in 1882. Sobel and Raimo, Biographical Directory of Governors, 3: 1089. is elected governor. (Applause) I congratulate you on
the principles laid down in the Saratoga platform;7The New York Republicans held their state convention at Saratoga on 3 September 1879. The Republican platform endorsed the Hayes administration's return of the United States to the gold standard, condemned Democratic congressional efforts to strike down laws protecting the freedmen‘s political rights, and promised to continue the party’s program of reform of the administration of the state's canal and prison systems. New York Times, 4 September 1879; New York Tribune, 4 September 1879; AAC, 1879, (679-80; De Alva Stanwood Alexander, A Political History of the State of New York, 3 vols. (New York, 1906-09), 3: 412-17. on the favorable omens


in the political sky; on the harmony in the republican party; and on the
division and strife which prevail in the democratic party.8The renomination of incumbent governor Lucius Robinson, a protege of Samuel Tilden, by the New York State Democratic convention in Syracuse on 11 September 1879 caused the followers of Tammany Hall to bolt the meeting. Tammany leader John Kelly had become estranged from the cautiously reform-minded Robinson when the latter had removed Kelly's ally, Henry A. Gumbleton, from the lucrative post of New York county clerk. The bolters chose Kelly as their candidate for governor but endorsed the remainder of the regular Democratic ticket. In the November election, Kelly received more than seventy-seven thousand votes, allowing Republican candidate Alonzo B. Cornell to triumph over Robinson by a forty-three-thousand-vote majority. This disunity among the Democrats also caused the defeat of most of the rest of their statewide slate of candidates by narrow margins. New York Times, 12 September 1879; J[ames] Fairfax McLaughlin, The Life and Times of John Kelly, Tribune of the People (New York, 1885), 113-14; Alexander C. Flick, ed., History of the State of New York, 10 vols. (New York, 1933-37), 7: 393-94, 418-27; McGuire, Democratic Party of New York, 2: 1-7; Flick, Samuel Jones Tilden, 444-46. “When rogues
fall out”9The oldest recorded English version of this proverb is by John Ray: “When knaves fall out, true men come by their good." John Ray, A Collection of English Proverbs (Cambridge, 1670), 111.—you know the rest.

In relation to Mr. Cornell: I hold him to be an honest man, the noblest
work of God.10Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle IV, line 247. His name stands for a record without a blot; for a character
without a stain; a man above reproach, and like Caesar’s wife above
suspicion.11Douglass paraphrases remarks that Plutarch attributes to Julius Caesar: “I wished my wife to be not so much as suspected." Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. John Dryden (New York, n.d.), 860. I know A. B. Cornell. He has a decided advantage over some
men, in that he is a man of cool temper and calm judgment. He doesn’t
“slop over” easily. He has quiet, calm judgment, and this is a guarantee
that he will make the people of the state a good governor. He may be
commended with confidence and without fear. It is well to have a good
candidate. It is well to have a man in whose political and personal honor the
enemy can find no rents for their poisoned arrows. There are some things
about Mr. Cornell which some would like to have otherwise. He is called a
machine politician—a slang phrase which may mean something or noth-
ing. I believe it means that Cornell is a man who works industriously,
noiselessly, faithfully and efficiently in the interest of the party to which he
belongs. That’s what it is to be a machine politician—an honest worker. A
man who can lay his hand on his heart and say he has neither been false to


his country or his party, but true to both, and such a man is Alonzo B.
Cornell. The honor or dishonor of being a zealous supporter depends not so
much on the man as on the party. No man can be too zealous in supporting a
good or destroying a bad party. Some of our friends, or who ought to be our
friends, have recommended “scratching.”12The nomination of Alonzo B. Cornell for governor angered New York Republicans who supported President Rutherford B. Hayes's efforts to reform the nation’s civil service. Reminding voters of Hayes’s dismissal of Cornell from the U.S. Customs House at New York City, Harper's Weekly editor George William Curtis urged Republican voters to scratch Cornell's name from the party’s ticket on election day. Although the Republican press condemned Curtis as a traitor, several other prominent, reform-minded Republicans publicly endorsed his proposal. As a consequence of the defection of the “scratchers” in the election, Cornell trailed the rest of the Republican ticket by more than fifteen thousand votes but nonetheless triumphed, thanks to an even more serious division in the ranks of the Democrats. AAC, 1879, 679—81; Gordon Milne, George William Curtis and the Genteel Tradition (Bloomington, Ind., 1956), 160-61; Alexander, Political History of New York, 3: 424—25. I hate to use the word, but
since it has been used by so eloquent a man as George William Curtis,13George William Curtis (1824-92), political editor of Harper's Weekly and chairman of the Richmond County Republican party, first advocated scratching Alonzo B. Cornell’s name from the ballot in an editorial on 4 October 1879. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Curtis lived for a year and a half at the Brook Farm utopian community and was a frequent visitor to the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne during the early 1840s. After four years of travel in Europe and the Near East, he returned to settle in New York City to write, lecture, and help edit Putnam's Monthly Magazine. When that periodical went bankrupt in 1857, Curtis entered an association of more than thirty years with Harper and Brothers, writing the “Easy Chair" feature for Harper's Monthly, contributing regularly to Harper's Bazaar, and producing political editorials and other columns for Harper's Weekly. Curtis's leading role in the civil service reform movement on both the state and the national levels began during the Grant administration. His opposition to corrupt patronage practices led Curtis to resign as Richmond County Republican party chairman after advocating the “scratching” Campaign in 1879 and to endorse Democrat Grover Cleveland rather than Republican James G. Blaine in the 1884 presidential election. Harper's Weekly, 20, 27 September, 4, 11, 18 October 1879; Milne, George William Curtis; Alexander, Political History of New York, 3: 424-25; NCAB, 3: 96-97;DAB, 4: 614-16. I
may use it. He has been trying to teach the young republicans of Staten
island that it is divine to scratch. I have heard many things called divine in
my day, but calling a thing divine does not make it so. When a thing is too
bad to be called human, it is called divine. George William Curtis and
others are wrong in their relation to the party. The question in politics is not
men, but principle. When we go to the polls we vote not so much for men,
as for the great principles of the party. No one doubts that Alonzo B.
Cornell (applause) will carry out the principles of the party. Therefore we
are bound to vote the ticket, the whole ticket, and not a name erased from
the ticket.

My interest in this great political canvass is founded on that greater
question of 1880. You are deciding not only what kind of governor we are


to have, but what kind of a president we are to have. It may be Wash-
burne,14One of the four sons of a farm family from Livermore, Maine, to serve as a Republican congressman, Elihu Benjamin Washburne (1816-87) studied to be a lawyer after earlier working as a farmer and a journalist. He moved to Galena, Illinois, to establish a law practice and soon became a respected Whig party leader, attending the 1844 and 1852 national conventions. After losing an election for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848, he won the seat in 1852 and served eight consecutive terms. Important highlights of Washburne’s congressional career were his opposition to all forms of subsidies to railroad companies and his sponsorship of military promotions for his close friend Ulysses S. Grant. As a reward, Grant appointed Washburne to be his secretary of state but switched him after only a few days in office to the post of U.S. minister to France where he served until 1877. At the 1876 and 1880 Republican National Conventions, Washburne received a small number of votes for the presidential nomination and finished second in the balloting for the vice-presidential spot in the latter campaign. Gallard Hunt, comp., Israel, Elihu and Cadwallader Washburn: A Chapter in American Biography (New York, 1925); McFeely,Grant , 75-76, 83-84, 154, 294-95; ACAB, 6: 370-71; NCAB, 4: 14-15; DAB, 19: 504-06. out on the prairie; it may be Blaine,15Born in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania, James Gillespie Blaine (1830-93), graduated from Washington College near his hometown in 1847. After studying law and teaching, Blaine moved to Maine where he worked for newspapers in Kennebec and Portland in the mid-1860s. An early adherent of the Republican party, he held office in the state legislature (1858-62), the U.S. House of Representatives (1863-75), and the U.S. Senate (1875-81). Relatively conservative on the issues of military Reconstruction, Blaine was a leader of the anti-Grant “Half-Breed” faction of the Republican party and lost bitterly contested battles for the presidential nomination in 1876 and 1880. He served Garfield as secretary of state but departed the cabinet when Chester Arthur became president. In 1884 Blaine finally captured the nomination for president but lost a close election to Grover Cleveland in which Democrats charged him with accepting financial favors while a congressman. Blaine concluded his long public career by serving as Benjamin Harrison’s secretary of state (1889-93). David Saville Muzzey, James G. Blaine: A Political Idol of Other Days (New York, 1934); Charles Edward Russell, Blaine of Maine: His Life and Times (New York, 1931); ACAB, 1: 275-80; NCAB, 1: 137-39; DAB, 2: 322-29. of Maine. (Applause.) It
may be honest John Shemian. It may be Ulysses S. Grant. (Long continued
applause.) It will be a republican. And in order that it shall be a republican,
we must all do our duty early Tuesday morning, and all day long, We have
before us a canvass with barbarism on one side, and civilization on the
other; with assassination on one side, and peace on the other; with liberty
on one side, and the spirit of slavery on the other. The spirit of slavery
asserts itself still in the south. You are to let the world know on which side
you are. The question is whether the south is to make the laws, mold the
policy and control the destiny of this republic, or whether the brave, loyal
and honest north shall do so. The south has made itself solid. Senator
Hill,16Benjamin Harvey Hill. who in the confederate congress moved that your sons and brothers
be hunted down with blood hounds—he says the south has made itself
solid for protection. Has anybody combined against the rights or proposed


to interfere with the rights of the south? The spirit of the republican party
has been the spirit of reconciliation. The republican party is not reviving
old issues. If we offended in anything, it was in our hurry to get away from
the issue of the war; to amnesty the rebels, to welcome back to their places
in Congress the rebel brigadiers. Why the south itself was at first as-
tonished at our clemency. Many ran away, expecting that an iron hand
would be laid on them. But not a hair of their heads was injured. Not even
Jefferson Davis, the arch-traitor was harmed. Brother Greeley and Gerritt
Smith went on his bond.17The federal government confined ex-Confederate president Jefferson Davis to a federal military prison after his capture on 8 May 1865. In May 1867 the federal district court at Richmond, Virginia, issued a writ of habeas corpus on Davis's behalf. When U.S. Attorney General William M. Evarts announced that the prosecution was not yet prepared to try Davis on the charge of treason, the federal court set bond at $100,000. Northerners Horace Greeley, Gerrit Smith, and Cornelius Vanderbilt and a group of Virginians, including John Minor Botts, signed Davis’s bond and won his release. Davis was never tried and all proceedings against him were dismissed in 1869. Strode, Jefferson Davis, 219-23, 305-09, 339; Hale, Horace Greeley, 321-24. We never did hate the south. Even our martyr
President Lincoln (applause) had no malice. “With malice towards none,
with charity for all”18Douglass slightly misquotes a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 8: 333. were his words, and that has been the spirit of the
republican party. Grant, the great captain, when he took the presidential
chair, uttered the sentiment of the north and of the republican party “Let us
have peace.”19Douglass quotes from Ulysses S. Grant’s letter to Joseph R. Hawley, accepting the Republican party’s nomination for president. AAC, 1868, 745. As soon as that good man, Rutherford B. Hayes (applause),
took the chair he declared his policy to be that of pacification and recon-
ciliation, and passing by good men in his own party, gave the south an
unexampled specimen of northern generosity, and took a rebel general and
democrat into his cabinet.20Rutherford B. Hayes selected David McKendree Key (1824-1900) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as his postmaster general. The son of a Methodist minister, Key had been born in Greene County, Tennessee, and graduated from the newly established Hiwassee College in 1850. He practiced law in Chattanooga and served as a Democratic presidential elector in the 1856 and 1860 campaigns. During the Civil War, Key fought in the Confederate army as a lieutenant colonel (not a general, as Douglass says) until captured at the surrender of Vicksburg on 4 July 1863. Pardoned by Andrew Johnson in August 1865, he held only minor political offices until selected in 1875 to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Key served in Hayes’s cabinet for three years before accepting appointment as a federal district judge in Tennessee. He remained on the bench until retiring in 1894. David M. Abshire, The South Rejects a Prophet: The Life of Senator D. M. Key, 1824-1900 (New York, 1967); ACAB, 3: 529; NCAB, 3: 203; DAB, 10: 361-62. Some of us felt that this was a little too much,
but we had confidence in the ability and integrity of the man, and we were
willing to let him try the experiment. The experiment has been tried. What


is the result? While we were “taffying”21In the late nineteenth century, the term taffy gained some currency as a synonym for flattery or cajolery. Mathews, Dictionary of Americanisms, 2: 1698. them all over, they were killing
negroes and white men, and by outrage and violence succeeded in estab-
lishing a solid south. We were tired of the matter, but the south and the
democratic party insisted on opening the national closet and dragging out
the old issues. But they will get enough of it. We have been deceived. We
thought that kindness to a fallen foe would awaken a spark of gratitude.
That is human nature. But there is a difficulty in applying general rules to
our southern brethren. They contract debts and repudiate them. They shoot
colored men and republicans. They whip a negro with his hands tied. While
we were treating them kindly they were making a solid south to rule the
democratic party, to have their rebel debt paid for, to have their negroes and
rebel claims paid for. I wish they were all like Key and Longstreet.22David M. Key and James Longstreet. The
south has insisted that the loyal soldier shall not be in the southern states on
election day. In slavery days the army was brought into southern states on
very trivial occasions. When old John Brown with eighteen men whipped
all Virginia, they had no objection to having United States soldiers going to
conquer old John Brown and his army of eighteen. When the democratic
party comes into Congress and says that unless the republican party will
repeal the election laws, it will not appropriate money to carry on the
government—who brings up the question? The party could not repeal the
law. The democrats could not make that strong-backed man—Rutherford
B. Hayes—back down. (Applause) Then they attempted to nullify it.23Thanks in part to Hayes's refusal to intervene to protect Republican voters in the South, the Democratic party had gained majorities in both houses of Congress in the 1878 election. Congressional Democrats quickly acted to ensure that neither Hayes nor a later president could use the authority of the federal election laws to send troops to guard voting places. In the name of states' rights, the Democrats attached riders to appropriation bills prohibiting enforcement of the election laws. Although Hayes remained committed to federal nonintervention in southern political affairs, he nonetheless vetoed the appropriation measures and defended his legal prerogative to act to protect the voting rights of blacks. Republicans used the ensuing stalemate between the legislative and executive branches to unite their ranks in an attack on Democratic party subservience to the interests of ex-Confederates. Republican successes in many northern states in the fall election of 1879 persuaded congressional Democrats to abandon their campaign against the election laws. Gillette, Retreat from Reconstruction, 354-56; Lawrence Grossman, The Democratic Party and the Negro: Northern and National Politics, 1868-92 (Urbana, Ill., 1976), 56-57. If
you vote Cornell on Tuesday next, you will elect a man who will see to it
that every man has the right to vote. I learned my politics a long time ago. I
was a slave but I got hold of Webster’s spelling book. It was a picture of an
old man trying to drive a boy out of an apple tree with kind words and tufts


of grass. The boy laughed and kept on eating. Then the old man said: If
kind words and tufts of grass will not bring you down, I’ll try what virtue
there is in stones.24This illustration and fable appear in Noah Webster's The American Spelling Book; Containing, the Rudiments of the English Language, for the Use of Schools in the United States, 90th ed. (1783; Philadelphia, 1816), 83, 25. (Applause, which continued for several minutes.)
That’s my politics. (Applause.) Try some stones on Tuesday next. (Rounds
of applause.) The south is not ready for power yet. Why they don’t know
how to behave themselves. (Applause.) I don’t trust my grand child with a

Roscoe Conkling is to-day the tallest man in the American senate, and
since Seward25William Henry Seward. New York has sent no man to that senate who commands
the attention and respect Roscoe Conkling does. (Applause) I say this not
because I am in his town. I don’t know that he would touch me with a forty
foot pole. I like him because he is proud. I know he has conscience, and in
the absence of conscience pride is a very good thing. Black a man’s boots
and he will keep out of the mud. I’ll tell you what is happening all over the
country. Some of the negroes are naming their children after him. (Laugh-
ter and applause.)

The colored people have some claims upon you. You know we were
your friends in the south when you had no other friends there. The soldier
boys knew we were their friends when they were escaping from Anderson-
ville, and Libby,26Confederate authorities converted the three-story brick warehouse owned by the candlemaking firm of Libby and Sons into a prison for captured Union army officers. Built along the banks of the James River in Richmond, Virginia, Libby prison housed as many as one thousand prisoners in late 1863. On 9 February 1864, more than a hundred of them escaped via a tunnel; half of the men successfully reached Union lines. Later that year the Confederates converted Libby into a temporary holding site and transferred the regular inmates to more secure prisons farther south. Complaints by Union prisoners of ill-treatment at Libby received much attention in the northern press during the Civil War. Hesseltine, Civil War Prisons, 114-32; ESH, 719-20. and Castle Thunder. They didn’t like to see white men at
that time, but Uncle Tom, and Uncle Jim, and Caesar, because they would
feed them when hungry, show them the way when lost, and shelter them
when they were shelterless. We brought you the best tidings, and how
things were proceeding on the other side. We were your friends then and
are, now. There would be no trouble in the south if the people were all like
the negroes. The negroes are the only people in the south who work. They
have raised more cotton since emancipation than before. We were your
friends in the country’s darkest hour. When Abraham Lincoln called, we
responded. You rewarded us by giving us freedom and the elective franchise.


I call upon you as men of honor, as men of conscience, as men of
gratitude, as Americans to see that this guarantee is not empty words, but a
real thing. The way you can make this guarantee good, is to take the reins
of government into your own hands. You can do the first work in this
direction next Tuesday.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


October 30, 1879


Yale University Press 1991



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